HOW TO PRACTICE Pigeon Pose IN YOGA (Kapotasana)
Benefits, How to Instructions, Modifications, and Common Alignment Mistakes for Pigeon Pose
In yoga, Pigeon Pose (Sanskrit name: Kapotasana), and the more challenging version called Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose), are deep hip-opening yoga poses that engage the entire lower body. Both provide an opportunity to increase the range of motion of the external hip rotators of the front leg, as well as to lengthen the hip flexors of the back leg. Pigeon Pose also stretches the groin area.
To practice Pigeon Pose is to understand why many yoga teachers refer to this pose as the “king” of hip opening poses.
In Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, the fullest expression of Pigeon Pose, the back knee is bent and the back foot is drawn in to meet the crown of the head, creating a truly regal form. Because the bulk of weight-bearing in this pose rests on the back surface of the front leg and the front surface of the back leg, great attention should be placed on full extension of the spine and equal distribution of weight in the pelvis. Make sure you are able to easily perform Pigeon Pose and a backbend such as Ustrasana (Camel Pose) before attempting this version of the asana.
Benefits of Pigeon Pose
Pigeon Pose is a good preparatory posture for deeper backbending yoga poses. While both front and back legs are engaged, it offers a different experience in each. The front leg is in hip abduction and external rotation, in which position the deep piriformis and other muscles of external rotation will naturally lengthen. The back leg, on the other hand, will be in hip extension, which will create length in the long iliopsoas chain and rectus femoris. In King Pigeon with the knees bent, the hamstrings will be firing on all cylinders as well.
In the full expression of the asana, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, the spinal extensors, upper trapezius, serratus anterior and abdominal muscles will all be in play. This is truly a full-bodied yoga pose!
Many yoga students find Pigeon Pose to be rather challenging, and are better served by doing one of the posture’s alternate versions, which deliver the benefit minus the risk that weight bearing adds. Proper preparation is essential. Mental focus and attention to breathing can help you ease into this yoga pose.
Because Pigeon Pose is such a deep stretch for the hips, it is important to be warm and ready to move into the asana before attempting it. If you’ve had a hip replacement, your doctor’s okay is an absolute must before attempting this yoga pose.
Basic Pigeon Pose
- Start in Bharmanasana (Tabletop Pose).
- Extend your right knee forward, toward your right wrist. Angle your lower right leg toward the midline, placing your right foot just in front of your left thigh.
- Extend through your left heel to lift your back knee off the ground, lifting your pelvis.
- Maintain your hip alignment, and lower your pelvis to the ground. Point the toes of the left leg so that the top of the foot is on the ground.
Note on Tight Hips: It is often challenging to maintain proper pelvic alignment while lowering the hips. If you find that there is a big gap between the ground and your front hip, place a folded blanket, yoga block, or bolster of a height sufficient to support you under your front hip. The prop will take some of the weight of your pelvis, which should also help relieve any pain or pressure in the front knee and protect the sacroiliac (SI) joint. If you feel any sensation in the front knee, start by practicing Reclining Pigeon, which has the benefits of the yoga pose with less risk. (See a description in the Yoga 2.0 tab.)
- Find the appropriate angle for your front shin that allows your knee to feel comfortable and your pelvis to relax down toward the floor or to a prop such as a bolster, block or folded blanket. Your shin doesn’t need to be parallel with the top of the yoga mat. Protect the front knee by bringing your front heel closer to your opposite hip, as much as is appropriate for your body. There should be no pain in the front knee.
- If you are able to bring your shin parallel with the top of the mat, press the big toe mound forward and pull the outer edge of the foot back.
- Walk your hands forward, and lower your torso.
- Visualize the front hip grounded and moving toward the back heel.
- Make sure the back foot doesn’t invert, so that the sole of the foot faces your midline. You can place a block on the inside of the back foot, guiding the toes to point straight back.
Moving into King Pigeon
- From Pigeon Pose, with your spine upright, establish grounding through your hips.
- With your hands on blocks or on the floor on either side of your torso, lift up through your sternum, reaching your heart toward the ceiling.
- Bend your back knee and begin to arch back toward your foot, walking your hands along the floor, back toward your knee.
- On inhalations continue lifting up through your sternum, trying to arch the upper thoracic part of your spine. Ground through your tailbone to protect your low back.
- Once you feel steady, begin walking your hands up your shin toward the ankle or foot. From the arch in your upper back, allow your neck and head to extend in line with your spine.
Note: If you cannot reach your foot, you can start by using a strap around the foot until you feel more comfortable with the deeper backbend.